How do you answer the "Q Source" question?


I have a very close friend who, among other reasons, has been losing his Catholic faith, and what’s worse is that he is considering paganism or some other polytheistic ideology.

One of his biggest issues is that he claims that there are a lot of “Inconsistencies” in the bible, and there may even be some mysterious “Q Source”, otherwise known as a missing gospel.

I was hoping there was someone who knew something about what these inconsistencies might be, because I’m not sure where to look, and also how to answer them. To be honest, I would be equally concerned if I found out that this were true, and that there was no explanation.

Can anyone help me resolve this concern regarding our sacred scripture?



Neither one of you should be concerned. Consider what Luke himself tells us:

Luke 1
1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

So, Luke confirms that “many” had written accounts of the life of Jesus and that he is going to do the same after completing his own investigation. His will be an “orderly” account. Why does he say that? Because Papias informs us of the existence of another “disorderly” account: the gospel of Mark which was written before Luke.

Mark wrote his gospel as a collection of the sayings of Peter. Luke investigated matters in the course of his travels with the Apostle Paul. Matthew and John were apostles, of course.

But “many” other accounts were written previously…but that does not mean that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, does it? No.

“Q” (short for the word “Quelle”) is the name of a document that may have existed prior to the writing of the four gospels, and it may have been copied in part by Matthew and Luke. Here is a simple diagram:

Luke and Matthew copied large portions of Mark, but they also have some verses in common from another source. This source, now lost, is called Q.

Q’s existence does not undermine the inspiration of Matthew or Luke; the Holy Spirit used them as true authors to convey what He wanted them to write and no more, but as true authors, they were free to use their own ideas, words, thoughts and even other documents they had on hand in order to express the Word of God.


There are many inconsistencies in the four gospels, and this should not worry you. In fact, not only are inconsistencies EXPECTED in eyewitness testimony, the absence of inconsistencies is a greater problem because it suggests collusion on the part of the eyewitnesses. Police are suspicious when witnesses tell the EXACT same story again and again; it sounds rehearsed.

In California, jurors are given a lot of instructions at the end of a trial just before they begin their delberations; here is one portion of those instructions:

“Do not automatically reject testimony just because of inconsistencies or conflicts. Consider whether the differences are important or not. People sometimes honestly forget things or make mistakes about what they remember. Also, two people may witness the same event yet see or hear it differently” (Section 105, Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, 2006).

Does this help?


You may find these articles helpful:

The upshot is that there is no “Q” source. It’s a theoretical biblical exegesis that assumes things based on the fact that the authors of the four Gospels didn’t write about the same things. Which proves nothing except that they were writing to different people for different reasons, and like any writer of this kind of literature, included those things they were inspired to relate. If anything it shows that the Gospels weren’t accounts all told in the same way as if pre-agreed upon, but they were written by four men who either witnessed the events first hand, Matthew and John, or had them relayed to them by witnesses, as in Luke and Mark. Luke from various sources, including Mary, and Mark from Peter.



Wow. Thank you for that information. That was excellent to read, and it was helpful.

If I could, though, with regard to inconsistency, one of the arguments I get from my buddy, at least one I used to get, is that there are parts of the bible where Jesus outright denies being God, and then other parts where he strongly alludes to or claims to be.

(Ex. " “As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’” Mk 10:17-18)

For the sake of argument, why would something divinely inspired have inconsistencies like this? I understand small inconsistencies, but this seems large.

Thanks again for all the help!


Ah…but this is not a denial of being God. What Jesus is saying is, “Think about what you’re saying, my friend. If only God is good, and you are calling me “good”, then am I God?”

He was trying to get people to consider who He really was. :thumbsup:


That’s sort of what I was thinking too. I am never sure if I’m right when it comes to scripture.

Thank you for the insight. He is a very intelligent person, so sometimes, when he has objections, I get nervous. Fortunately, our Faith has all the answers it seems. :slight_smile:


I don’t think the bible or the scriptures is the answer.

John 5:39 “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me”

Your friend needs to meet Jesus Christ regularly in the Holy mass, in order to stay in the Catholic faith.


That’s an interesting point of view. Thank you!


The problem with your friend is that he’s acting as his own biblical interpreter or reading people who do so. That is the wrong approach because the Bible doesn’t exist apart from the context in which its books were written. A bald reading may not tell you anything useful if you don’t understand who, what, when, where, and why things were said or done. I suggest reading Scripture with a reliable commentary–one that doesn’t rely on spurious “scholarship” but on the constant teaching of the Church (which gave us the Bible) and on Sacred Tradition of the prophets, patriarchs, and Early Church Fathers, such as this one: It is based on the Douay-Rheims version.


Faith is based on works. Without faith our works is dead. Without works, our faith is inconceivably incorrect.


I actually think something like the Q source would add validity to the Gospels. 


Your buddy needs a good Catholic study Bible (and needs to read it) - it would answer a lot of his questions. Q is referenced extensively in my study Bibles and there’s nothing mysterious about it- it was a list of the sayings and actions of Jesus, the list having been lost to time but some of which still exists in the Gospels because the Gospel writers used it as a source. And there was an explanation for what Jesus meant in his reply in Mk 10:18. It was not a denial of His Divinity.


Q is a myth, a claim just plucked out of the air. There is zero evidence to support a Q source.


I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was “plucked out of the air.” It is a hypothetical document, with arguments for and against it, none of which are implausible. For it to gain such attention among so many NT scholars would require it to have some merit as a theory.

Now, I don’t believe that the existence or non-existence in Q should be the determination of abandoning ship or not. That seems like a spurious reason to leave the faith.

I agree. When studying history, especially that far back, written accounts/narratives are the best evidence we could ask for. The more the merrier, pretty much. Another “Gospel Writer” with facts that jive with the current gospels would be quite a monumental find, but would probably open a can of worms to a degree that I can’t possibly fathom.

Although the Apocrypha are left out of the Bible and are not “valid,” they serve as even more evidence to the historicity of Jesus. The more stuff written about him, the more of a case you have (even though there is already near-universal consensus among NT scholars that he existed, historically-speaking).


Exactly. The worst of it is lay people become confused, begin to doubt, or use such things to reject the faith so they can follow the zeitgeist of their society. The great temptation is to appear to be more clever than one’s fellow Catholics/the Church, when in reality the “Q” source eviscerates the word of God, not illuminates it.


Compare Matthew to Luke and you’ll find no Q.


What is Q?

Broadly speaking, the synoptic gospels are made up of the following material:

Triple Tradition: Refers to the material shared by Matthew, Mark and Luke. It broadly has the same order across all three gospels, in fact this order tends to be identical with Mark’s, to the point that if you were to isolate triple tradition material in Matthew and Luke you’d end up with a complete gospel generally similar to Mark in structure. Now there are times when Matthew or Luke may occasionally place individual incidents differently, but striking thing about it is that it is rare for both Matthew and Luke to place the same incident differently. Even where Matthew and Luke apparently depart from Mark’s narrative order, they very often both of them end up reverting into agreement with Mark. In other words, the gospel of Mark is often (but not always) the so-called ‘middle term’, the man in the middle.

Double Tradition: Material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark; what supporters of the two-source theory (aka Q theory) term ‘Q material’. Not as numerous as triple tradition material, but still substantial to some extent. Its content is mainly sayings material (i.e. the Our Father, the Beatitudes) but includes some narratives such as the centurion’s servant and the testing of Jesus in the desert as well. It is made up overall of somewhere between 200 and 250 verses of material, usually Jesus’ own speech. The interesting thing about this material is that you don’t have much of it in a closely parallel order; there is some kind of parallel order, but not the same one you get with triple tradition. The order tends to vary between the two gospels.

Special Matthew (M): Material found in Matthew alone. Like double tradition, much of it is sayings material (for instance, the parables in Matthew 25:1-13 and 25:31-46), with a few exceptions (i.e. the Temple tax in Matthew 17:24-27). Some of it can also be found embedded within triple tradition material; for instance, Judas’ death and the brief reference to Pilate’s wife in Matthew 27.

Special Luke (L): Material found only in Luke, usually narrative material like the announcement to Zechariah and John the Baptist’s birth, the Annunciation and Visitation, the boy Jesus in the Temple and the Road to Emmaus, and also saying materials like the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

Special Mark: Material found only in Mark. Unlike M or L, there is very little ‘special Mark’ material that it’s hardly a separate category by itself. A few examples we can give here are: Jesus healing a deaf and mute man using His spittle and fingers (7:31-37), Jesus healing a blind man in Bethsaida (8:22-25), and the young man “clothed with a linen cloth over his naked body” in Gethsemane (14:51-52).

These are essentially the main elements. (One should keep in mind however that these categories are not water-tight.) Most of the materials in the three gospels usually fit one of these four or five categories. But there are four complications, if you will:

M Material in Triple Tradition: Material unique to Matthew embedded in triple tradition material and would make no sense outside of context; for example, Jesus’ conversation with John the Baptist just before His baptism in 3:14-15.

Lukan Triple Tradition: Three pericopes or passages which have parallels in Matthew and Mark and might be described as Lukan versions of triple tradition material (the rejection at Nazareth at 4:16-30; the call of the first disciples at 5:1-11; the anointing of Jesus at 7:36-50).

Not-quite Triple Tradition: Material found in Matthew and Mark but not in Luke (cf. Matthew 14:34-3; Mark 6:53-56), or in Mark and Luke but not in Matthew (for example, the woman at the treasury; Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4). These are not, strictly speaking, triple tradition material since they occur in only two out of the three gospels, but they are akin to triple tradition because they appear in the Markan order.

When Mark is not the middle term: Some material halfway between triple and double tradition. Appears in all three synoptics but unlike triple tradition, features substantial agreement between Matthew and Luke against Mark. Major examples of these are the story of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:11-12; Lk. 3:15-17; cf. Mk. 1:7-8); the temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; cf. Mark 1:12-13); the Beelzebul controversy (Matt. 12:22-37; Lk. 11:14-23; cf. Mk. 3:22-30); the parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32; Lk. 13:18-19; cf. Mk. 4:30-32) and the mission of the disciples (Matt. 10:1-15; Lk. 9:1-6, 10:1-12; cf. Mk. 6:6b-13).


So where does Q come from?

Essentially, it’s an attempt to explain ‘double tradition’, the material shared by Matthew and Luke but not Mark. One of the pillars of the two-source hypothesis is that Matthew and Luke could not have known or made use of the other’s gospel, since there are huge differences between them which seem to point in that direction (cf. the infancy narratives and the genealogies; M and L material essentially). Therefore, for adherents of the theory, the only thing that could explain double tradition is a third document that Matthew and Luke would have supposedly used. They both supposedly used the same document, but they used it independently of each other.

Now Q theory is itself a modification of earlier theories.

You might say that the origin of Q (Quelle, German for ‘source’) essentially lies with the early Church Father Papias. Papias once mentioned a tradition that Matthew compiled the logia (‘sayings’, although his actual use of the term encompasses a broader category than just that) of Jesus ‘in the Hebrew language/style’.

Therefore Matthew put the logia in an ordered arrangement in the Hebrew language/style, but each person interpreted them as best he could.

Later Church Fathers interpreted Papias to mean that Matthew literally wrote a gospel in ‘Hebrew’ (Papias phrasing in the original Greek is rather ambiguous; it could be interpreted as ‘Hebrew language’ or ‘Hebrew style (of writing)’), and that this gospel was the very first to be written. (When they speak of Matthew writing first, they’re usually referring to this ‘Hebrew’ gospel.) Some even tried to find this elusive ‘Gospel of the Hebrews’, as they sometimes called it; a few (like St. Jerome) claimed to have found a copy of it, though it’s more likely that what they actually found were one or more later derivatives of the canonical (Greek) Matthew used by Jewish Christian sects of their time.

In the 18th-19th century, scholars used Papias’ testimony as the basis for proposing theories about a proto-gospel (which they identified with the ‘Hebrew’ gospel) being the source for one or more of the synoptics. They get this idea from Papias (and the later Fathers’ subsequent interpretation of Matthew’s logia as the ‘Gospel of the Hebrews’). Q is just a variation on this idea. As if it isn’t obvious enough, the original term for Q in German was Logienquelle ‘Logia source’.

Q as we know it today is really just Papias’ claim of a ‘Hebrew’ gospel penned by Matthew, with Papias and Matthew removed from the equation. What happened was, by the late 19th-early 20th century many scholars began to doubt whether the earlier interpretation of Papias is accurate, or whether even if Papias’ account is really historically true. However, they liked the idea of a proto-gospel anyway so it stuck. And that’s how the phantom Q came into existence.


Hello Randy,

i would just note that Luke does not explicitly say many have undertaken to draw up many accounts but many have undertaken to ** draw up an account.**

It is quite possible that Luke was referring to the many people who were consulted in drawing up the account of Matthew for example. In fact given the number of the many followers of Jesus and his broad travels you would expect many to be involved in drawing up any account.

I don’t think Luke’s words necessarily suggests that there were many written accounts floating around.

Regarding hard sayings :


The word diēgēsin here actually refers more to ‘narrative’ or ‘narration’. In other words, many people have tried to “to draw up an [orderly] narrative” (anataxasthai diēgēsin) - in other words, a coherent, linear account, as opposed to disjointed anecdotes. And in fact, Luke’s gospel is generally ‘orderly’ by Greco-Roman standards at least when you compare it to Matthew or even Mark - he organizes pericopes into a fixed scheme.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit